Johann Amman (1707–1741) was professor of botany at the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1731 until his death. Born in Schaffhausen, Amman received his early education from his father, a prominent doctor. He studied medicine at Leiden under Boerhaave (1727–1729) and after worked as a curator of Sloane’s Herbarium in London (1729–1730). In 1731 he was made a member of the Royal Society. Amman was chosen by Johann Georg Gmelin, a botanist in Russia at the time preparing for the Second Kamchatka Expeditions (1733–1743), to replace Johann Christian Buxbaum, the St. Petersburg Academy’s first chair of Botany. Upon his arrival in 1733, Amman worked primarily with the botanical collections of Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt and Johann Christian Buxbaum that were housed in the Academy’s Kunstkamera. This cabinet of natural history was formerly the personal collection of Tsar Peter I but was greatly expanded after the foundation of the Academy in 1724. Amman remained in St. Petersburg until his death in 1741.
Ribeiro Sanches, a Portuguese doctor with the Medical Chancellery in Moscow, made a note in a book he received from the dispersal of Amman’s estate attesting to his warm feelings for his fellow doctor and botanist:
"Most learned and experienced in matters of natural history, he [Amman] was the wisest among the medical men; he understood European languages and could speak them; a perfect friend, capable of both giving and receiving advice, honest, sociable, noble, humane, therefore entirely worth of all the best, and deserves to be mourned."
Amman’s lasting contributions to Russian botany include the establishment of the Botanical Garden on Vasilevskii Island in 1735, as well as the preparation of two of Buxbaum’s Centuriae volumes (1733 and 1740) and the publication of his own work, Stirpium rariorum in Imperio rutheno (1739). Amman also contributed regularly to Academy’s journal, Novi Commentarii and maintained an extensive botanical correspondence both abroad (Carl Linnaeus, Albrecht von Haller) and with botanists in Russia (Traugott Gerber, P. A. Demidov).
Published in 1739, Johann Amman’s Stirpium rariorum was one of the first botanical monographs to be published by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. It was prepared by Amman shortly after his arrival in St. Petersburg in 1733, and was published almost in tandem with the third volume of Johann Christian Buxbaum’s Centuriae (1740), which Amman also organized and edited. Both volumes were expensively produced with many copper-plate engravings and were routinely given as gifts by Amman and others in establishing botanical correspondence and exchange.
The Stirpium features over 285 different plant species, some of which are richly illustrated, from across the Russian empire’s southern and far eastern borders. Collected by Johann Heinzelmann, Johann Georg Gmelin, and Daniel Gottlieb Messerschmidt, Amman took care to grow as many specimens as he could in the Academy’s Botanical Garden, which he founded in 1735. In bringing together the efforts of three ambitious, state-sponsored expeditions, Amman’s Stirpium presented a variety of never-before-seen species from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and central southern Siberia, along with some anecdotal information on their original locations.
Amman organized this work as he did his own extensive herbarium, strictly according to Tournefort’s system. He did enjoy a lengthy correspondence with Linnaeus, however, despite his mild criticism of the newly introduced sexual system, and the Stirpium in fact became an important work for Linnaeus, who cited it (“Amm. Ruth.”) throughout his 1753 Species Plantarum.
Amman’s Stirpium, along with Buxbaum’s Centuriae (1728–1740) and Gmelin’s Flora Sibirica (1747–1769), proved foundational for western Europe’s appreciation of the flora of the Russian Empire throughout the eighteenth century.
For biographical details of Johann Amman’s life and his work in St. Petersburg, see: W. J. Bryce, “Russian Collections in the Sloane Herbarium,” Archives of Natural History 32 (2005), 26 – 33; “Amman, Johann,” pg. 53 in: S. Iu. Lipshits, Russkie Botaniki Biografo-bibliograficheskii slovar (Moskva: Izd-vo Moskovskogo Obshchestva Ispytatelei Prirody, 1947); “Amman, Johann,” pp. 475 – 476 in: The Biographical Dictionary of Useful Knowledge, Vol. II, Pt. II (London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1843); “J. Amman. Biographischer Versuch.” pp. 110 – 111 in: Receuil des actes des séances publiques de l’Académie des Sciences de St.-Pétersbourg, tenué le 20 Décembre 1831. (Sanktpeterburg: de l’Imprimerie de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences, 1832).
On the Kunstkamera of Peter I and later the Academy of Sciences, see: Oleg Neverov, “‘His Majesty’s Cabinet’ and Peter I’s Kunstkammer,” chapter 7 in: The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Europe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985); T. V. Stanyukovich, The Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography named after Peter the Great (Leningrad: Nauka, 1970).
For Ribeiro Sanches’s description of Amman, see: P. I. Khoteev, Kniga v Rossii v seredine XVIII v. Chastnye knizhnye sobranie (Leningrad: Nauka, 1989), 110.
For Amman’s use of Tournefort’s system, see: A. V. Kuprianov, Razvitie printsipov sistematiki v XVII – XVIII v. Doctoral dissertation: Institut Istorii estestvoznaniia i tekhniki, 2005.
For Amman’s correspondence with Linnaeus, see: The Linnaean Correspondence, an electronic edition prepared by the Swedish Linnaeus Society, Uppsala and published by the Centre International d’étude du XVIIIe siècle, Ferney-Votlaire [linnaeus.c18.net]; “Perepiska Karla Linneia s deiateliami Peterburgskoi Akademii Nauk (I. Ammanom, G. F. Millerom, I.-Ia. Lekselem, I.-Ia. Lerkhe),” pp. 169 – 229 in: Tsitsyn et al. eds., Karl Linnei. Sbornik statei. 250 let so dnia rozhdeniia 1707 – 1757 (Moskva: Izd. AN SSSR, 1958).
On the western European perception of eighteenth-century Russian botany, see: W. J. Bryce, A Botanists Paradise: The Establishment of Scientific Botany in Russia in the Eighteenth Century (Swansea: Royal Horticultural Society, 2008); Alexander Karamyschew, Necessitas Historiae Naturalis Rossiae. Doctoral Dissertation: Upsaliae, 1766.
This text was generously prepared by Rachel Koroloff, Dumbarton Oaks Junior Fellow, 2013–2014.